Hyun Jin Ryu is headed back to South Korea. The KBO’s Hanwha Eagles announced the signing of Ryu to an eight-year deal worth 17 billion won (equivalent to just over $12.4MM). The contract also contains an opt-out provision at an unspecified date. Jeeho Yoo of Yonhap News relayed the details (on X). A Korean-language report from X Sports first reported the 17 billion won guarantee. It’s the largest contract in KBO history.
Ryu debuted with the Eagles in 2006 at age 19. He won the league’s MVP award as a rookie thanks to a 2.23 ERA through 201 2/3 innings. The southpaw turned in a 2.80 ERA in 190 appearances over a seven-year run with the Eagles. After the 2012 season, Hanwha announced they’d make Ryu available to major league teams through the posting system.
Under the MLB-KBO posting rules in effect at the time, teams placed blind bids for the right to exclusive negotiation with the player. The Dodgers bid upwards of $25MM to win that auction. That opened a 30-day window for them to sign Ryu. The sides eventually came to a six-year, $36MM guarantee with various performance bonuses.
It turned out to be an excellent investment. Ryu pitched to an even 3.00 ERA over 30 starts in his debut campaign, finishing fourth in NL Rookie of the Year balloting. He turned in a 3.38 mark during his sophomore season before losing almost all of 2015-16 to shoulder and elbow problems. Ryu spent time on the injured list with various lower-body concerns between 2017-18 but remained effective when healthy. He finished his Dodger tenure with a flourish, turning in 182 2/3 innings with an MLB-best 2.32 ERA in 2019. He secured an All-Star nod and a runner-up finish to Jacob deGrom in NL Cy Young balloting.
That stellar year couldn’t have been timed any better. Ryu returned to free agency that winter, this time with all 30 teams eligible to put in offers. He signed a four-year, $80MM pact with the Blue Jays going into 2020. Through two seasons, it looked like a strong move. Ryu turned in a 2.69 ERA over 12 starts during the abbreviated schedule, finishing third in Cy Young balloting. He wasn’t as dominant the following season but managed a reasonable 4.37 ERA while starting a career-high 31 games.
Ryu’s final two seasons were impacted by injury. He battled forearm issues early in the ’22 campaign. An attempt to pitch through the injury was unsuccessful and he required Tommy John surgery in June. That kept him off an MLB mound well into the 2023 season.
The Jays reinstated Ryu on August 1. He managed 11 starts in the final two months, working to a 3.46 ERA. That’s solid production but wasn’t without some worrisome indicators. His fastball velocity sat at a personal-low 88.6 MPH. He struck out just 17% of opposing hitters and allowed 1.56 home runs per nine innings. The Jays deployed him in a very sheltered role. Skipper John Schneider called on Ryu to work beyond five innings just once. He only faced an opposing hitter for a third time in an appearance on 33 occasions.
That all worked against Ryu as he returned to the open market for what’ll be his age-37 season. At the beginning of the offseason, he said it was his preference to remain in MLB. It’s very likely that Ryu could’ve gotten a big league contract offer — the Mets and Padres reportedly showed interest — but it’s possible the market from major league teams wasn’t as robust as he’d anticipated.
Whatever the rationale, Ryu is returning to his home country. He’d spoken before about wanting to pitch for the Eagles between the end of his time in MLB and his overall playing career. He’ll do just that on a record-setting contract that runs through his age-44 season.
This almost certainly marks the end of Ryu’s time in the major leagues. He has had an excellent MLB career, allowing 3.27 earned runs per nine in 186 appearances. He tossed 1055 1/3 innings, struck out 934 batters, and collected 78 wins. A two-time Cy Young finalist, he also received down-ballot MVP votes in 2019 and ’20. Ryu made nine playoff starts over five separate seasons, working to a 4.54 ERA in 41 2/3 frames.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.